School chief proposes $40.2M budget

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, left, presents his proposed $40.2 million budget for 2014-15 Feb. 26 at Long River Middle School in Prospect as Board of Education member Sheryl Feducia looks over the spending plan. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, left, presents his proposed $40.2 million budget for 2014-15 Feb. 26 at Long River Middle School in Prospect as Board of Education member Sheryl Feducia looks over the spending plan. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — The Board of Education’s budget season began Feb. 26 as Superintendent of Schools Tim James presented his spending proposal for the 2014-15 school year.

James presented a proposed $40.2 million budget for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The proposal represents an increase of $1,715,810 or 4.46 percent over the current budget.

“I have been in public education for 43 years and a superintendent in Connecticut for 25 of those years,” said James as he presented his spending plan to the school board. “I have prepared numerous budgets, defended the expenditures at countless meetings and public hearings, and can say one thing with surety. In every district I have served, the budget reductions have varied by town and economic climates, but one thing has remained constant. Regardless of the depth of the budget reductions, the elimination of teaching and support staff positions, instructional resources, dollars to support maintenance and technology, and the list goes on and on, the community members do not proportionally lessen their expectations that the school system sustain its high standing and excellent reputation and assure students are high achievers. We owe it to our students to set forth a responsible budget that triggers academic growth and achievement.”

Administrators in the district presented their requests to James and Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini late last year. James said the total requests would have increased the budget by 6.7 percent. He pared down the requests by about $863,000 to reach the plan presented last week.

James said increases in fixed costs alone — such as contractual obligations, debt service for construction of the new Prospect Elementary School and transportation costs — equate to a 3.97 percent budget increase.

While most of the proposed increase is due to fixed costs, the plan includes a handful of new positions and initiatives.

The budget would restore the culinary arts program at Woodland Regional High School to a full-time program and a .5 music teacher would be added at the school as well. At Long River Middle School, a .5 teacher would be added in music, art and world language. Two cafeteria aides would also be added at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

James said in the past the board has not allocated money specifically for curriculum improvements. His plan includes several new curriculum initiatives. 

Among the initiatives are Read 180 and Math 180, programs that will focus on improving reading and math achievement respectively at Long River Middle School. The proposal would also implement a phonics program for students in grades kindergarten to second.

James said administrators worked to find ways, such as grants, to pay for the programs with the least financial impact on the budget. The Read 180 program, which costs $48,000, will cost the district $8,800, he said. The Math 180 initiative will have no cost to the district for the 2014-15 school year, he said.

The board did not delve into the details of the budget last week. The board will review the budget during workshops in the weeks ahead to finalize its proposal to be presented at a district meeting in May. Ultimately, the voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect will have to approve the budget.

The school board is currently conducting a survey to gather comments, ideas and responses to key questions regarding the budget. The survey is available through the district’s website, www.region16ct.org, by clicking on the “Region 16 Budget Survey” link on the homepage. The survey closes at 1 p.m. on March 12.

Former board member Robin Wright urged the board last week not to make any further reductions or cuts on top of the reductions already made by James.

“I think we need to get the spending level back to where it needs to be for the children and for the buildings and for the staff,” she said.

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